Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Poliuto, Glyndebourne

Donizetti’s Poliuto at Glyndebourne could well become one of of the great Glyndebourne classics.

Carmen by ENO

Dystopic vision of Carmen, brought to life by vibrantly gripping performances

Pacific Opera Project Presents Ariadne auf Naxos

Pacific Opera Project, a small Los Angeles company, presented a production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the Ebell Club with an excellent group of young singers at the beginning of what should be good careers.

Varispeed pushes the possibilities of opera forward with Robert Ashley’s Crash

Six people, dressed in ordinary clothing, sitting in a row at desks adorned only with microphones and glasses of water, and talking for ninety minutes: is it opera?

Rising Stars in Concert, Lyric Opera of Chicago

The spring concert of Rising Stars in Concert, sponsored by and featuring current members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, showcased a number of talents that will no doubt continue to grace the stages of the world’s operatic theaters.

The Singers Sparkle in New York Opera Exchange’s Carmen

New York Opera Exchange’s production of Carmen from May 8th to 10th highlighted that which opera devotees have been saying for years: Opera, far from being dead, is vibrant and evolving.

‘Where’er You Walk’: Handel’s Favourite Tenor

I have sometimes lamented the preference of Ian Page’s Classical Opera for concert performances and recordings over staged productions, albeit that their renditions of eighteenth-century operas and vocal works are unfailingly stylish, illuminating and supported by worthy research.

The Pirates of Penzance, ENO

Topsy Turvy, Mike Leigh’s 1999 film starring Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent, dramatized the fraught working relationship of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan; it won four Oscar nominations (garnering two Academy Awards, for costume and make-up) and is a wonderful exploration of the creative process of bringing a theatrical work to life.

Manitoba Opera: Turandot

There’s little doubt that Puccini’s Turandot is a flawed, illogical fairytale. Yet it continues to resonate today with its undying “love shall conquer all” ethos, where even the most heinous crimes may be forgiven by that which makes the world go ‘round.

Mariachi Opera El Pasado Nunca se Termina Comes to San Diego

On April 25, 2015, San Diego Opera presented it’s second Mariachi opera: El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished) by Jose “Pepe” Martinez, Leonard Foglia and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

Antonio Pappano: Royal Opera House Orchestral Concerts

Ambition achieved! Antonio Pappano brought the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House out of the pit and onto the stage, the centre of attention in their own right.

Bedřich Smetana: Dalibor, Barbican Hall

Jiří Bělohlávek’s annual Czech opera series at the Barbican, London, with the BBC SO continued with Bedřich Smetana’s Dalibor.

Orlando Explores Art Without Boundaries

R.B. Schlather’s production of Handel’s Orlando asks the enigmatic question: Where do the boundaries of performance art begin, and where do they end?

The Virtues of Things

A good number of recent shorter operas, particularly those performed in this country, made a stronger impression with their libretti than their scores.

Król Roger, Royal Opera

It has taken almost 89 years for Karol Szymanowski’s Król Roger to reach the stage of Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera Celebrates 50 Years of Great Singing

San Diego Opera, the company that General Manager Ian Campbell had scheduled for demolition, proved that it is alive and singing as beautifully as ever. Its 2015 season was cut back slightly and management has become a bit leaner, but the company celebrated its fiftieth season in fine style with a concert that included many of the greatest arias ever written.

Hercules vs Vampires: Film Becomes Opera!

In the early sixties, Italian film director Mario Bava was making pictures with male body builders whose well oiled physiques appeared spectacular on the screen.

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Almas Svilpaas as Hercules and Marie-Helen Joel as Lichas [Photo by Thilo Beu courtesy of Aalto-Musiktheater]
13 Dec 2011

Colossal Hercules in Essen

Apparently the Aalto Theater didn’t get the memo that oratorios often make weak theatre pieces, since the company presented such a gripping dramatic case for Handel’s Hercules.

G. F. Handel: Hercules

Hercules: Almas Svilpa; Dejanira: Michaela Selinger; Hyllus: Andreas Hermann; Iole: Christina Clark; Lichas: Marie-Helen Joel; Conductor and Chorus Master: Alexander Eberle; Director: Dietrich W. Hilsdorf; Set Design: Dieter Richter; Costume Design: Renata Schmitzer; Lighting Design: Dirk Beck; Stage Director of the Revival: Carolin Steffen-Maass; Chorus Master: Alexander Eberle; Continuo Group: Natalia Spehl (Cembalo/Organ), Ulrich Mahr (Cello), Michael Giesen (Bass), Stephan Rath (Theorbo).

Above: Almas Svilpaas as Hercules and Marie-Helen Joel as Lichas

Photos by Thilo Beu courtesy of Aalto-Musiktheater

 

Perhaps the most astounding hallmark of this fine production is the fact that the stellar cast was assembled from Essen’s own roster of house singers. Many an international company would count itself lucky to have fielded such a superior team of soloists. First among equals was the commanding Hercules from Almas Svilpa. That his sonorous, resounding Heldenbariton also serves him well when he takes on Wotan at the house is no surprise. Even more awesome than his burnished tone, however, was Mr. Svilpa’s bravura technique that allowed the role’s florid vocal fireworks to come hurtling into the auditorium with utmost precision and emotional heft. I have seldom heard such interpretive freedom and nuance in a voice so large. Almas is also a sincere and attentive actor with an imposing, well-defined body that commands the stage.

1626_2069_Hercules-1126.gifMichaela Selinger as Dejanira and Christina Clark as Iole

The many challenges of Dejanira’s vocal and theatrical machinations held no fear for Michaela Selinger’s lusciously appealing mezzo. Ms. Selinger brings a wealth of stage savvy to bear, and she coolly mines a wealth of variety from the moody, prodding, vengeful character. The role calls for wide-arching phrases, rapid-fire fioritura, sinuously persuasive pleas, self-righteous dramatic statements, and caressed introspections, and well, this diva divine simply has it all, plus a star quality that is every bit a match for her Hercules.

Diminutive, lovely Christina Clark as Iole is a perfect foil for Dejanira, with her beautifully schooled, crystal clear, silvery soprano that, though small, floats out into the house with ease. Ms. Clark’s voice may have an innate sweetness, but she can also suggest some starch and bite when the drama requires. She immerses herself into the role with abandon.

Andreas Hermann cut a handsome figure as Hyllus, and utilized his attractive, rather straight-toned tenor to good effect. His refined phrasing lent an underlying elegance to the tortured son’s ruminations. Marie-Helen Joel was a bright-voiced, prepossessing Lichas. Her lean, responsive mezzo and assured deportment rounded out the first-rate cast who worked beautifully singly and together. Speaking of which, Alexander Eberle’s hard-working, peripatetic chorus was another of the performance’s glories for their luxuriant ensemble singing and ardent dramatic involvement.

1618_2053_Hercules-1065.gifMichaela Selingeras as Dejanira with Opern- und Extrachor, Statisterie des Aalto-Theater

Perhaps that was because Herr Eberle was indeed the evening’s conductor, and what a loving, incisive reading he coaxed from cast and pit! Maestro Eberle not only partnered his soloists with uncanny care and consideration, he also found an internal pace to the whole evening that would be the envy of many a Baroque “specialist.” Rarely, have I been so completely drawn into a Handel stage work. Eberle had his work cut out for him since the choral and instrumental forces were often spread out into the upper tier or offstage sides of the auditorium. Well worth it say I since this was a brilliant effect which surrounded us with, enveloped us into waves of music.

But this begins to fall into the realm of stage direction, and here, too, Essen scored a bull’s eye. Originally staged by Dietrich W. Hilsdorf and here remounted by Carolin Steffen-Maass, this was a fascinating “leap of faith.” For the production did not try to pretend that the oratorio format had a linear dramatic timeline. Not a Unity in sight, they elected to treat each new set piece as an impression that fits into the whole, perhaps like a piece of a stained glass window, or in stage terms, like the vignettes that form Webber and Rice’s Evita.

In making this choice, they went for broke and aggressively physicalized each scena. This yielded astounding results, and the no-holds-barred sparring and wrestling and clutching and chasing that informed many confrontations were raw, startling, and arresting. That is not to say there were not contrasting moments of repose and contemplation, but these were made all the more impressive in the context of such a primal frame of reference.

1632_2081_Hercules-1310.gifAlmas Svilpa as Hercules, Michaela Selinger as Dejanira and Marie-Helen Joel as Lichas

Dieter Richter’s massive, decaying structure with its eroding stone walls, downstage cistern, displaced doors, and crumbing skylight evoked many locales, to include a temple, a public bath, a reception room, and (with addition of a large, curtained bed-room-platform stage left) a theatre. The front scrim cloth of Dejanira’s boudoir is adorned with what appears to be a primitive cave painting. So many productive uses then, for this evocative environment. It is gorgeously lit by Dirk Beck, whose brooding, mist-filled general wash was frequently invaded by beams of warm specials like that streaming from upper stage right’s large round embrasure.

Arguably the hardest-working designer was Renata Schmitzer who attired the large cast in over-the-top costumes that were varied, explicit, and staggering in aesthetic scope. In general the look seemed grounded in Handel’s own period, witness the elegant black mourning clothes, and the riotously colored waistcoats, gowns and wigs of the courtiers. The soldiers were truly intimidating with their black uniforms from a more biblical era, with breastplates and two huge feathered inverted “f’s” attached to the back as an ominous decoration that caused the men to tower over the female peasants (clad in burka variations).

The leading roles were tellingly attired in variations of shiny elegant underclothes (Iole), sleepwear (Dejanira, Hercules), court wear (Hyllus, Lichas) and uniform (Hercules). Dejanira’s volatile burgundy/purple, Hyllus’s icy blue, Lichas’s deep gray, Hercules’s bluish-grey, and Iole’s transition from white to black all meaningfully underscored their character’s souls.

If I had one wish, I would ask that the company work a bit on their English pronunciation. Only American Clark was singing in her native language and not surprisingly, her diction was superb. The others had moments of excellence, but with everything operating as such a superlative level, that was the one element that could be improved upon. Yes, I know the audience didn’t care since they were reading the German supertitles, but. . .just sayin.’

The choice to present Handel’s Hercules was a considerable risk. But thanks to Essen’s wholly winning artistic contributions it paid off with a success as colossal as its namesake.

James Sohre

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):